Tuesday, 22 March 2011

On Signs

There are roads that I cross everyday, literally minutes from my house, whose names escape me. I have literally no idea what they're called. This makes it incredibly difficult to give people directions; any instructions I give are usually something like the following:

"Go straight on until you get to the pub, turn right onto the road with all the hairdressers then turn left at the second phone box. If you reach a tree that looks a bit drunk, you've gone too far."

Pretty unhelpful, I'm sure you'll agree. It would seem that I've unwittingly developed the ability to completely disregard any signs or symbols that are displayed to make my life easier. Where others see road names, I see a blank space.

I blame this problem fully on the immense amount of information that my tiny brain is expected to handle on a daily basis.

The streets are littered with to let, to rent, for sale signs. Each sign has its own logo, a website and phone number. Double yellow lines indicate no parking, on train platforms they say stay away from the edge. Pound signs, percentages and price tags clutter shop windows that display one of a million possible brands. No smoking, no access, CCTV in constant use. Rallying points, health & safety notifications, planned tube delays.

It's no wonder that, when faced with such a barrage of information, my brain has decided to block it out rather than embark on the troublesome task of working out what I need to know and what's irrelevant.

No; I do not need to know the name of the company maintaining the scaffolding I walk past in the morning. At least not at the moment - if it falls on my head then rest assured that I will track you down.

I don't even want to know which local authority manages the road I'm walking down, what the soup of the day is in a restaurant I can't afford, or what percentage APR a certain bank's best new credit card offers.

I accept that this information is important for somebody else, and that there could come a time in which I need to know something that I've previously ignored, but at the moment my head is too full of stuff to filter the visual assault I'm faced with. It's almost like I'm sleep-walking; I take absolutely nothing in.

At least that's how it was, until three weeks ago when my job took me on a brief trip to Paris. The leafy boulevards of the French capital were littered with just as many signs and symbols as its less pretty British counterpart, but they seemed so much more interesting. Different phrases, different logos and a different language. It forced me to look, to open my eyes, and since I've been back I've found myself looking around again, taking things in.

It's what I needed, I think. A chance to step back and see something new and exciting (including a chance to meet a real live blogger in her natural habitat). It dragged me out of the daze I've been walking around in for so long, and made my days that little bit more interesting. Sometimes it takes being dragged kicking and screaming out of your comfort zone to make you realise how comfy it is.


  1. I always read signs as I pass them on the street, the same way that I read the shampoo bottle every time I'm in the shower. I can't not look!

  2. I love your directions - "when you see a tree that looks a bit drunk, you've gone too far." I <3 you Tom.

    Yeah, I don't always notice things in my own city or province, but when I went to Montreal I paid more attention because everything was in French. I think once your brain knows it's somewhere different it kicks it up a notch.

  3. I bet I could tell which tree looks a bit drunk though, no question!
    But I also have Sebastien, and he's basically the best guide in Paris...

  4. I don't read signs either. I just eventually get familiar with the place. (Sometimes.)

    There was one time that I watched the news and I saw a familiar place. I think it was a restaurant or a spa. Whatevs. I knew I pass by that place everyday but I can't, for the life of me, remember exactly where that is.

    So yeah. I suck at remembering stuff like that.

  5. I'm not always good at remembering signs. I remember directions and landmarks. Signs, only if signs are necessary.

    Our extended family lives 7 hours north of where I live, so naturally, I remember ZERO signs between there and here (except the one major highway). I could not tell you any of the streets we turn on. But I can get you there no problem based on the landmarks.

    However, sometimes signs are worth stopping and looking at. I'm glad your trip to paris was able to give you fresh perspective.

  6. Don't worry- I have the same problem. I know roads by where they take me e.g. The Metro-Centre road, the Sunderland road and the 60 road (because you drive 60mph). Clever or what?!

    I have to say when I ask for directions I will nod along, the person will leave and I am as clueless as I was when I asked.

  7. I'd like a sign from you.

    Saying you're alive.


  8. I am definitely NOT a sign person... when ppl are trying to tell me where something is in town and are naming streets or even landmarks and I have that :-/ look, they ask HOW LONG HAVE YOU LIVED HERE?!? When I say almost a year they stifle a laugh and decide to see if I understand directions to another local spot.. SO i've learned to go along with Missy, just nod!


  9. @ theTsaritsa - I used to read shampoo bottles constantly when I was younger. Aloe Vera sounded so magical and exotic.

    @ Allison - good point. Maybe it was just that my brain was required to process something new, that it dragged itself out of hibernation!

    @ Erin - Sebastien is by far the best tour guide. Patience of a saint, honestly. I even bored him with a 45 minute monologue on the merits of Dragon Age: Origins. It was good to meet you. I had much fun.

    @ Gnetch - soon you won't need to remember directions. You'll be carried everywhere.

    @ Tabs - I'm the same - I know one road name on the way to my uncle's house, but I can tell you three pubs you pass along the way and that there's usually a sign saying there's a farm round the corner that sells potatoes. Helpful. Still, as long as u get there in the end.

    @ Missy - the 60 road! That's genius. And being given directions is humiliating. You feel under pressure to understand first time, even though your head is straining under all the new information. All this left and right malarkey.

    @ Risha - HE LIVES. I have been emailing you. I think you owe me one.

    @ Heather - Smile and nod. My new mantra. How could that possibly get you into trouble. Lol.

    @ Erin - AAAH. Forgiveness, please.